This very belated bit of flash fiction written for my 1200th Twitter follower, Paul (@Orbital_Habitat). He gave me the prompts: woodlands, strange lights in the sky, and a twist. I hope you enjoy it!
The trees close in around me like the throng of people who are supposed to be out here, stocked with marshmallows and beer. The night sheathes the trees in darkness, but the light of the full moon turns them to silhouettes. The same light makes my skin a pallid gray against the bright purple of my shirt. I don’t like that.
I rub my hands over my gray arms. “Where the hell are you guys?”
No one answers, but a brief strain of music reaches my ears. My feet crunch twigs in time with the beat. It grows louder as I walk toward it.
This is what we get for having our graduation party out in the middle of cow-tipping nowhere. There are no cows here, though. Just trees. And the reverberation of a bass line. Dub step in the forest.
In the canopy of trees above my head, lights flicker. I squint up at them, but they don’t return.
The music’s louder now. No wonder no one heard me calling. I pull out my mobile and shake it as if the movement will give me 4G service to tweet about this. Wandering through the woods in 140 characters or less.
Another flicker of light appears up ahead, this time at ground level. I rub my hands over my arms again, anticipating the warmth of the fire. I squint ahead. I don’t remember there being a clearing at the party spot. I look up through the branches, hoping for a glimpse of starlight, but even the moon’s gone behind a ribbon of clouds. I follow the ruddy glow of the fire and the pulse of the music.
The fire vanishes.
There are trees in front of me, blocking my view. I skirt to the side, looking around the trunks. I can’t see the fire, but the music continues to beat, the rhythm pausing, varying. I should be almost to the fire now. I should hear voices, see movement. But there’s nothing.
Something flickers above my head, but when I look up, it’s gone.
The trees open up to expose a clearing. A few smoldering embers dot the ground, still glowing red. They trail off to the right.
The song ends. Silence greets me. I walk toward the embers, peering at them. Where’d the fire go? Where the hell is everyone? It’s not just like you can pick up a campfire and run away. Talk about burning a hole in your pocket.
The ground feels warm even through the soles of my thin flip-flops. The moonlight is gone. Even without the dense branches overhead, no light permeates the clearing.
My feet slip. The ground crumbles away beneath them.
My hands scrabble at the dirt. One palm comes down on an ember, and I yell. The scent of my burning skin reaches my nose. I’m sliding backward, legs swinging below me. I dig my fingers deep into the loamy soil, through a layer of pine needles.
I twist my head around, look down.
Lights blaze into being. Hundreds of lights. White dots. Incandescent suns.
My fingers give out.
I fall into the brightness.
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